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A Year in Japan Paperback – March 1, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This delicately crafted artist's journal offers colorful impressions of a young woman's extended visit in Kyoto, Japan. Williamson's watercolors are playful, bright and spare, and each section illustrates a theme or topic that has inspired the artist/author over her travels to a country devoted to attention to detail. For example, Williamson explores numerous rituals of dining, such as offering a guest green tea accompanied by a piece of wagashi, or bean paste confection, and illustrates over two pages the elegant lunch she ordered at a temple serving shojin ryori, the vegetarian cuisine of Zen Buddhist monks. The sacred rope that unites the "male" and "female" rocks of the Shinto site Meoto-Iwa warrants both an intimate view (the rope) and a full, breathtaking seascape of the wedded rocks. Williamson renders eye-catching holidays from August's O'bon, featuring a trio of three white-socked and sandaled feet under pink kimonos, to April's stately sakura (cherry blossom) season. Some of the people Williamson depicts are sumo wrestlers wearing headphones and riding the subway, and two geishas side by side in full regalia—one apprentice, the other professional. For travelers to Japan, and those who treasure their visit, this is a splendid record. 350 color illus. (Mar.)
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As soon as you open her book... everything from cherry blossoms to breathtaking seascapes, you'll fall in love (with Japan) as well. -- Radiant, Winter 2007

Best Postcollege Memoir: An insightful journal with text and illustrations of the wonders and oddities she saw. -- Glamour Magazine, April 2006

watercolors and text that explores everything from washi paper to karaoke etiquette (hint: singing Elton John, okay; Mariah Carey, not). -- Travel + Leisure, April 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Archit.Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568985401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568985404
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It's actually an interesting exercise to compare this colorful journal with Karin Muller's recent "Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa". Whereas Muller approaches her sojourn as an almost anthropological expedition, author-artist Kate Williamson takes a decidedly more visual approach based on her own yearlong stay in Kyoto where she was studying, of all things, sock design. What sets apart Williamson's book are the bright watercolor illustrations that depict somewhat random aspects of Japanese life and culture. They show a sharp eye for authenticity and concurrently a sense of playfulness that reinforces the allure of Japan to the foreigner's eye.

She is fascinated by the famous wedded rocks at Meoto-Iwa, the patterns on washcloths, the colors available for backpacks, the foam cozies around apples, the difference in accessories between maiko girls and geishas, the everyday dress of sumo wrestlers, and the delicacies in a bento box. Luckily so am I. In between the pictures are brief essays that serve to provide back stories for the illustrations. Her impressions reflect an idiosyncratic eye, and her topics range from Hiroshima's one thousand paper cranes to karaoke private rooms to the details of the vegetarian cuisine of shojin-ryori to the rock n' roll-obsessed temple carpenters of the Kyoto Rockabilly Club. It is obvious her designer instincts are well stimulated by the variety of textiles, umbrellas and accessories she discovers there. Williamson is able to bring this all together thanks to her singular perspective and an eye for minutiae that can truly define a culture. Nippon-ophiles can rejoice at her graphically pleasing book.
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Format: Paperback
It is a great pleasure to be able to casually open A YEAR IN JAPAN, which stays next to my desk, and find a page by chance. On any given day, I might see a lovely two-page spread of maple leaves; an absorbing story (one of my favorites) in the author's fine print/cursive mix about her task of carefully tracing out the characters of a sutra in order to gain admittance to the Moss Temple; a tempting diagram of "sweets made especially for moon viewing"; an account of GUYS AND DOLLS performed by an all-female, Japanese cast; an illustration of a very comforting view from the inside of a Japanese taxi.

Every page is a pleasant portal into a world other than my own. The book is built loosely around the seasons and their shifting, and is thus also exciting as a work to be read through from front cover to back. Occasional references to the seasons provide an anchor for the reader, for example, you find out how traditional Japanese sweets have a specific shape and flavor in autumn, and about the kinds of umbrellas available during the rainy season.

The illustrations and texts are crafted with such thoughtfulness, brightness and love (much like the above-mentioned sutra text) that I am immediately transported into the author's world when I open the book, and feel delighted to share in her enchantment and exploratory spirit.

I always show friends this book when they visit.
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Format: Paperback
Even before looking inside A Year in Japan, the fold-out back and front covers are wonders to behold. They contain smaller versions of the colourful interior illustrations and list topics that could be prompts for poems: Plum Blossoms, Signature Songs, Elegant Taxis, Electric Rugs, Indigo Fireflies, Lunch with a Geisha.

Kate T. Williamson designed and illustrated her book as well as wrote a journal of her year in Kyoto, Japan. She was enamoured with Japanese customs and objects (like apples in foam cozies and mangos impaled on chopsticks to make less-sticky eating) and created a book to celebrate them.

Williamson, who lives in New York City, studied filmmaking at Harvard University. Her love of travel and interest in sock design, along with a postgraduate fellowship, took her to Kyoto. For a year, she filled journals with her thoughts and sketches.

While reading of Williamson's discoveries during her year of noticing, I was reminded of Natalie Goldberg who has also written of her travels to Japan to explore the land of her Zen teacher. But mostly I'm reminded of Goldberg because of the attention paid to the celebration and naming of everyday things. As Goldberg says, naming something "wakes you up to it". Both writers illustrate their work and I find pure delight in Goldberg's naive drawings, accompanying her poetry, just as I enjoyed Williamson's drawings and watercolours.

As for the names, Williamson gives the names of the ordinary things in Japanese as well as English. Green tea is matcha, used in tea ceremonies. To sweeten the matcha one eats a piece of wagashi, of molded sugar or bean paste. The illustration is a cup of green on a stark white page as if the artist has just drawn it and presented it to the reader.
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Format: Paperback
This beautiful book contains a wealth of detail, both in the artwork itself and in the author's commentary. The scenes will be instantly familiar to anyone who has visited Japan, and if you haven't, this book just might make you want to go. The artwork is complemented by the author's observations on Japanese visual culture - everything from package-wrapping to geisha style. The book allows you to see Japan not from a tourist's point of view but through an artist's eye.

In my opinion, some reviewers have missed the point - this book does not claim to be a novel, a travel guide, or even a memoir. It's simply a window into the everyday beauty of life in Japan.
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